Washington wines make influential list

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldNovember 28, 2013 

KEVIN CRUFF

Washington may be in its infancy when it comes to winemaking, but that hasn't stopped six Washington wines from receiving international acclaim.

Made from grapes grown in the Horse Heaven Hills and Columbia and Walla Walla valleys, the wines are among the Top 100 of the world's most exciting wines, according to Wine Spectator, an influential wine publication.

Four Walla Walla wineries -- Reynvaan Family Vineyards, Spring Valley, Charles Smith Wines and L'Ecole No. 41 -- were on the list, along with Quilceda Creek Vintners of Snohomish and Chateau Ste. Michelle's Horse Heaven Vineyards.

"We as a state make less than 1 percent of the wine globally," said Steve Warner, Washington State Wine Commission president. Yet Washington wineries represent 6 percent of the wines in the Top 100.

Washington's wines were chosen from almost 20,000 new releases reviewed by Wine Spectator this year after blind tastings, according to the publication. The Dec. 31 issue featuring the list will be available Tuesday, although the list is already posted online.

The phones at Reynvaan Family Vineyards have been going crazy since the list came out, said winemaker Matt Reynvaan.

For a winery that made its first wine in 2007, a No. 11 ranking is amazing, he said.

More people have been trying to get on the winery's waiting list, since the estate winery with small production tends to sell out when the wines are released, or shortly afterward, Reynvaan said.

One Washington wine did make the top 10 at No. 10 -- Quilceda Creek's 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, made with Columbia Valley grapes. More than 4,000 cases of the wine were made. A bottle sells for $135.

Wowing the world

Washington's first American Viticultural Area, the Yakima Valley AVA, was created 30 years ago, Warner said. Other wine producing regions in the world have been at it much longer -- in many cases, thousands of years.

"For us to be this good in 30 years, what makes me most excited is how great we will be in the future," Warner said.

Warner credits Washington's ideal conditions -- soil, sun, rain and availability of irrigation -- for contributing to the state's success. The state is a "sweet spot" when it comes to growing fruit, including wine grapes, he said.

And the state has attracted talented local, national and international winemakers who have set the bar high, Warner said.

Duane Wollmuth, executive director of the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance, said it has been a good year for Walla Walla wine country.

Making it onto Wine Spectator's Top 100 List brings national and international notice to the area, he said.

"It's pretty indicative of the quality of wine that's coming out of this valley," he said.

Washington farmers recently finished harvesting another record-breaking crop of wine grapes, which at almost 218,000 tons is up 16 percent from last year's record.

The state's wine industry tripled in economic impact within four years. Warner said it went from an estimated $3 billion impact within the state in 2007 to $9 billion in 2011.

And he expects the growth and critical acclaim to continue.

"We make some incredible wines," he said.

Winning wines

Part of the significance of Reynvaan Family Vineyards' ranking is how few cases were made -- 184 -- since that is among the criteria considered, Reynvaan said.

The winning wine, Reynvaan Family Vineyards's 2010 Stonessence Syrah, was already sold out, with a bottle priced at $70.

Reynvaan said the winery is able to closely monitor and care for its vines. "Estate grown is very important to us," he said. "It's a very old world style."

Another wine from estate grown grapes that made the list was Chateau Ste. Michelle's 2012 Horse Heaven Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, at No. 68.

Wendy Stuckey, Chateau Ste. Michelle's white winemaker, said the wine was made with fruit from a single estate vineyard, Horse Heaven Vineyard in Paterson.

She said they are out in the vineyard during September tasting the grapes, because there is a short time period when the flavor "pops."

"We don't do anything magical with the winemaking," Stuckey said. "It is really just an extension of the fruit expression from the vineyard. It has varietal expression without being too overpowering and has the acidity that accentuates the fruit character."

About 53,000 cases were made of the wine, which sells for about $15 a bottle. The wine is still available nationally at wine retailers.

In the same price range on the list, at $12 a bottle, is Charles Smith's 2012 Kung Fu Girl Evergreen Riesling, made with Columbia Valley grapes, at No. 51.

"Making Wine Spectator's Top 100 List is a testimony to our commitment for making the best wine, at every price level," Smith said. "People deserve to drink the best wine."

The inspiration for the name came after Smith visited friend Rikke Korff, who designs the wine labels. The combination of Chinese takeout, actress Lucy Liu in the film Kill Bill and drinking Riesling resulted in the wine's unusual name.

It's the second time Smith has seen his wine on the list. Charles & Charles Ros, made in collaboration with Charles Bieler of Bieler Pre et Fils and Three Thieves, ranked No. 42 last year.

The 2012 Kung Fu Girl Evergreen is still available through the winery, online and at local retailers. About 70,600 cases were made.

"There is not a lot left, but in my opinion, our 2013 vintage is even better than the 2012," Smith said.

L'Ecole No. 41 ranked No. 57 for its 2010 Syrah, made with Columbia Valley grapes. There were more than 2,400 cases made of the wine, which typically sells for $25 a bottle.

Wine Spectator described it like this: "Grippy tannins give way to fleshy plum and currant fruit, shaded with hints of fennel and peach fuzz, lingering well." Tannins give red wine a dry feeling and bitter taste.

And Spring Valley Vineyards' 2010 Uriah, made with Walla Walla Valley grapes, was No. 27. There were more than 2,000 cases made of the $50 wine.

It's described as "vivid, complex and inviting, offering a lively mouthful of red berry, black cherry, mint and mocha flavors that linger" by Wine Spectator.

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